Circling the Drain

A musical version of Romeo and Juliet.

Safe to say West Side Story popped into your head first. But what if I told you that THREE new musicals boast this very same premise, all contemporary spoofs of the original, two of which sound freakishly similar to each other.

Let’s start with those two.

First up, the one you may have heard of already: & Juliet, a Juliet-led sequel that musically send-ups Bardism in a distinctly 21st century musical parlance, courtesy of a soundtrack full of famous pop anthems by five-time Grammy Award winner Max Martin (while we’re noting overlaps, Shakespeare’s depiction herein is straight out of another Will-mocking musical: Something Rotten). 

Later this year, Invincible premieres at the Wallis in Los Angeles, “which reimagines the timeless story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for the 21st century through an intricate weaving of four-time Grammy Award winners and 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo’s legendary catalogue.”

I mean, eerily/hackishly similar, ya?

But we’re not done yet! Romeo & Bernadette just opened off-Broadway, yet another musical that relocates Romeo and Juliet to modern times. At least this one jettisons the pop, replacing it with “music adapted from classic Italian melodies.”

Why do I feel the need to point out these repeated occurrences across the theater world? Probably because few else do, given the difficulties of tracking geographically-bound productions around the globe. If two similar movies are released in the same year, both will probably play local multiplexes, allowing the masses to draw their own connections. But tracking such IP derivations (the rights to Shakespeare’s oeuvre are as cheap as they come; familiar with the public domain?) prove more difficult when it requires scout-scouring the planet.

But if it was easy, then anyone could do it. And just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Usually the opposite, no?

Speaking of the previous repeat offenders, the aforementioned Who Killed My Father double feature is now a triple. If Thomas Ostermeier and Ivo van Hove are the Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg of the European avant-garde, then the addition of Milo Rau is like Francis Ford Coppola joining the fray (or maybe Brian De Palma? Sorry Oliver Stone, this foursome will never be a pentagon). Rau teamed up with Édouard Louis on The Interrogation, a direct response to the theatre adaptations of his Who Killed My Father, in which Louis details his distaste for his newfound acting career. He confesses how much he purportedly hated performing in Who Killed My Father…in the exact production currently on stage at St. Ann’s Warehouse.

Booking the shows in rep would’ve been such a provocative challenge, potentially retorting the critics who lamented the questionable effectiveness of his thespian skills. What if this ineffectiveness is…intentional?

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